Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

A few words on COVID vaccines / Addendum: Second COVID Anniversary

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In yesterday’s anniversary text ([1]), I left out a few points around vaccines that I had planned to include:

Firstly, I have made one highly incorrect prediction (but I am not certain that I ever put it in writing): If the vaccines proved problematic, then the Biden administration would immediately cease its attempts to take credit from Trump (“These are Biden’s vaccines. They have always been Biden’s vaccines.”) in order to wash its own hands and blame him (“These are Trump’s vaccines. They have always been Trump’s vaccines.”).

The vaccines did prove problematic—and, to my great surprise, Biden et al. doubled down on the lie that they were not. In retrospect, this might not be that surprising, as it fits well with the overall approach to COVID both in the U.S. and in the rest of the world. (Cf. [1] and how compliance and whatnot appears more important than truth. This likely with an element of “never admit that you were wrong”, which seems to be a politician’s motto.)

This has been taken so far that even the benefits of natural immunity have been drowned out in the propaganda and, now, when natural immunity is slowly admitted, we hear that “The virus is a vaccine! How lucky are we?!? (But not as good a vaccine as a real vaccine!!!)”. This, of course, turns the world on its head: a vaccine is an attempt to gain the immunity caused by a real infection without the disadvantages (say, the risk of death) from such an infection. To call the virus a vaccine shows such a complete lack of insight into the matter, or so horrifying an intellectual dishonesty, that a summary firing should be the consequence. It is the more absurd, as there is disagreement whether the vaccines actually are vaccines, or merely something “vaccinoid”.

Secondly, vaccines (in particular; other counter-measures in general) appear to have gone from a means to an end, i.e. a way to fight COVID, to an end in it self.* As is often the case, politicians, journalists, and their ilk, have not kept the eye on the ball and asked questions like “Why?” and “What do we want to achieve?”. Instead, vaccines, or rather a high vaccination ratio, has become the end: We must have a high vaccination ratio! (Why? Because we must have a high vaccination ratio!!!!) We must push vaccinations on school children! (Why? Because we must push vaccinations on school children!!!!)

*Note that this can be seen as an alternative and/or complementary explanation to the “enforce compliance” explanation for some odd governmental behaviors.

This, admittedly, is a somewhat common human failing, and not one that I am immune to, myself, but that makes it all the more important to be aware of it. Larger organisations, including governments, should certainly make the effort to have some type of check or repeating reminder, possibly even some type of “means or end” manager. (And even for e.g. the individual citizen, it can pay to occasionally ask “Why do I do this? Is this activity a means to an end or has it become an end in it self? What ends do I really want to reach?” and similar.)

Thirdly, the general “public policy” approach to the development of the vaccines was fundamentally flawed. (And, yes, this is a point where I would put significant blame on Trump.)

My impression of the background thinking is that “Capitalism can move mountains. Let it do so with the vaccines!”. So far, I would actually agree, but the approach in detail was deeply flawed. In particular, the point of (medical) capitalism is not to heal or prevent but to earn money—and this appears to have been forgotten. (Indisputably, the vaccines have been far more successful as money makers than as vaccines, per se. This is another example of means vs ends: To a company like Pfizer, healing is one of the means, while making money is the end. This is as it should be, but others must remember this in their dealings with such companies.)

How could this have been done better, if we did want to use capitalism effectively? By all means, waive some of the usual protocols and test requirements.* However, make sure that the vaccines are taken only on a voluntary basis,** and that the citizens are given enough information for informed consent. Moreover, do not waive e.g. the possibility of liability claims and do not promise to cover such claims on behalf of the vaccine makers. Now, let anyone qualified who wants to make a vaccine make and sell a vaccine to those who want to take one (and paid for by the user or his insurance—not the government). If e.g. the increased liability risk is a fear for the vaccine makers (understandable), it must simply have the individual give informed consent that he waives the liability (possibly, partially or merely with an upper cap) in order to buy the vaccine—which, given current data, might still be a rational decision for the 80 y.o. with multiple health issues, but not for the perfectly healthy 20 y.o.

*Under the assumption that we really want to have vaccines at “warp speed”. Considering the comparative triviality of COVID (compared e.g. to the Spanish Flu), I am not convinced that this is a good idea, but it has certainly been the “official” premise.

**A necessity due to the waivers. There might or might not be some room for truly exceptional exceptions, but e.g. a mere “works in a hospital” is well short of that standard—let alone a “works with others in an office or a factory”.

Yes, this might have given us vaccines later and/or another set of vaccines and/or more expensive vaccines (notably, to compensate for the greater risk for the vaccine makers), but this is not really a bad thing, considering the dubious record of the actual current vaccines. In the alternate reality, we have preserved the right of the citizen to choose, we have kept the responsibility for flawed products on the product maker, etc. Vaccines would be brought onto the market when the maker foresees a net win from sales profits over liability claims,* which implies a greater degree of own confidence in the product. Etc.

*As opposed to the current sales profits with no liability claims. (Here, I take sales profits to imply revenue minus more regular costs, e.g. for development, production, and distribution.)

(This is just a rough outline/illustration of principle. Going into details, there are many questions to answer, e.g. whether a vaccine maker should be allowed to move this specific operation to a limited-liability subsidiary.)

Written by michaeleriksson

March 6, 2022 at 10:14 am

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